Washington: San Juan Islands Biking
Road Cycling in Washington with Backroads
- Island-hop by ferry, and pedal through stunningly diverse scenery, from conifer forests to farmlands to seaports
- Wildlife cruise with a naturalist - you may spot an orca!
- The breathtaking panorama of islands, snow-covered Mount Baker and the Olympic Peninsula
- La Conner, a charming fishing village with a relaxed country feel
- Waterfront lodging and fresh Northwest cuisine
Island to Island in the Pacific Northwest
It’s so close, you can smell it. Sharp, fresh, invigorating. The sea air permeates every scene. San Juan harbors dappled with sunlight, sailboats flitting across the deep blue Puget Sound water. Washington State Ferries, bigger and more majestic than you’ve imagined, sound their call, the workhorses of the waterway. Off the ferry and onto a new island. Biking the country roads, each day is an adventure. Evergreen-lined lanes give way to rural pastures, then back again. But you’re never far from the water. What’s around the next corner? Time to find out.
- All lodgings
- All meals included except 1 dinner, when you'll have the opportunity to sample local fare on your own
- Expertise and services of our experienced Trip Leaders
- Snacks and beverages between meals
- Additional guides and experts from the region on many trips
- Van shuttles to support a variety of route options
- Comprehensive Travel Planner with detailed pre-trip information
- Private guided tours at museums, historic sites, wineries and other attractions as noted
- All gratuities at hotels and restaurants on Inn Trips
- On Biking and Multi-Sport trips use of fully equipped Backroads titanium bike plus helmet and accessories
- Park and other entry fees
- Fares for trains, ferries and other modes of travel
- Select coach transfers
- Baggage transfers and porterage
- Backroads water bottle
- Alcoholic beverages (Backroads provides wine at select events)
- Gratuities for Trip Leaders
- Personal expenses
Day by Day Itinerary
On the first day of the trip, meet your Backroads Trip Leaders (the folks wearing Backroads T-shirts) at 12:30 p.m. at the Channel Lodge in La Conner. Alternatively, you can meet a leader at the Farmhouse Restaurant at 12:10 p.m. and take the Backroads shuttle to the Channel Lodge. Please arrive dressed to ride with your rain jacket handy or have your biking clothes and rain gear packed in a separate bag.
Skagit Valley Route 14 Miles
Longer Option: 22 Miles
After meeting we get acquainted over a picnic lunch on the back porch of the Channel Lodge, which offers sweeping views of the Swinomish Channel. Then your Trip Leaders fit your bike and give a brief talk on biking techniques and safety before sending you off on a carefree ride through the Skagit Valley. The area is famous for its tulip and daffodil cultivation—bulbs are even exported to Holland. Enjoy the scenery (and the only flat terrain of the week!) of colorful old barns, bean and potato fields, and farmhouse porches dotted with overflowing flower baskets. Feel free to repeat the loop for some additional miles or take it easy and explore La Conner, a charming fishing village with a relaxed country feel.
Tonight we gather for a wine reception at Nell Thorn restaurant before dining on local specialties—be sure to sample the fresh homemade bread.
Lodging: Channel Lodge
Anacortes Ferry Route 18 Miles
Longer Option: Washington Park 22 Miles
Ferry to Orcas Island 1½ Hours
Eastsound Route 11 Miles
Longer Option: North Beach Loop 16 Miles
Fuel up at breakfast for your first full day of riding in the San Juans. Pedal out of La Conner and across the Rainbow Bridge over the Swinomish Channel to Fidalgo Island. Continue over large rolling hills through the Swinomish Indian Reservation, around quiet coves and eventually to the Anacortes ferry terminal. To add a few more miles, ride around Washington Park, a hilly four-mile loop with terrific views of the Olympic Mountains and the islands to the west. Once aboard the ferry we head to Orcas Island—the most mountainous of the San Juan archipelago—which greets us with rocky shores, dense forests, rural valleys and some of the most challenging terrain of the trip.
We have all afternoon to get to the seaside hamlet of Eastsound, so whether you pedal up the hills or use your 28th gear (that is, walking your bike), you’re sure to enjoy the beautiful vistas at every turn. Of course, the van is there to offer a lift if you want it. Along the way, stop in at Orcas Island Pottery, a popular place for one-of-a-kind pieces made by local artists. Nestled among Douglas firs and western red cedars on the edge of a cliff overlooking President’s Channel, the studio grounds serve as a unique ―showroom‖ for the pottery.
Upon reaching Eastsound, settle into the spacious suites of the Outlook Inn, our home for the next two nights, or continue riding to the northern tip of Orcas for views of Sucia Island and Canada. You’ll have time to check out the town’s art shops and galleries, visit the Orcas Island Historical Museum, or treat yourself to a well-deserved massage. (Spa services are not included in the trip price, and reservations should be made in advance. See ―During Your Trip‖ for details.) The inn’s New Leaf Café hosts us tonight for an indulgent meal created from organic produce and fresh seafood.
Lodging: Outlook Inn
Moran State Park Route 9 Miles
Mount Constitution Hike 4.5 Miles (2,100-foot elevation gain)
or Mount Constitution Biking Route 11 Miles (2,100-foot elevation gain)
Optional Doe Bay Route 16 Miles
Shorter Option: Olga Artworks 6 Miles
Longer Option: Obstruction Pass 22 Miles
Optional Cascade Lake Walk 3 Miles
After a hot breakfast at the New Leaf Café, bike along Eastsound and tackle a steep one-mile ascent to Moran State Park. A nature lover’s paradise, the park consists of 5,000 wooded acres, five freshwater lakes, 30 miles of hiking trails, four waterfalls and Mount Constitution, the San Juans’ highest peak at 2,409 feet. Take a breather and decide how to explore this beautiful park. Only the most enthusiastic cyclists will likely enjoy the bike ride to the summit of Mount Constitution, a very challenging 2,100-foot climb in less than six miles. If that doesn’t interest you, there’s a fantastic hike to the top through a dense forest of towering cedar and fir trees. At the lookout tower, built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, a clear day reveals a breathtaking panorama of Canada’s coastal mountains, snow-covered Mount Baker, the Olympic Peninsula and the islands of Puget Sound.
A quick van ride (or even quicker bike ride if you rode up) takes you to Cascade Lake, where we enjoy a picnic, followed perhaps by a swim or well-earned doze in the sun. If you’re feeling energetic, ride the hilly but picturesque route to Doe Bay. Along the way, stop by Olga Artworks, where you can buy local crafts, from pottery to paintings. Or visit the attached Café Olga to satisfy your sweet tooth with a homemade cobbler or an espresso! If you’d prefer, hike the level trail around Cascade Lake or bike the five miles back to the hotel to relax and further explore Eastsound. You even have time for a spa treatment (see ―During Your Trip‖ for more details).
This evening a special dining event awaits us at Red Rabbit Farm. Learn some culinary magic at the hands of chef Christina Orchid during a unique farm-to-table dinner starring fresh meats and produce.
Lodging: Outlook Inn
Orcas Village Route 12 Miles (1,040-foot elevation gain)
Longer Option: Deer Harbor 20 Miles (1,200-foot elevation gain)
Wildlife-Watching Cruise to San Juan Island 4 Hours
This morning we bike along the edge of the Turtleback Mountains to explore the west arm of Orcas Island. A challenging climb up Enchanted Forest Road, as beautiful as the name implies, leads to a wonderful downhill through thick forest of Douglas fir and western red cedar trees. Head down to Deer Harbor on the west side of the island for yet another stunning water view. Continuing to Orcas Village, tackle several climbs, spurred on by thoughts of the delicious barbecue lunch that awaits in the English garden of the historic Orcas Hotel, listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
After lunch we board our chartered boat for a scenic wildlife cruise. As we enter the orcas’ habitat, a resident naturalist tells us more about these magnificent animals, as well as other wildlife we’re likely to see, including seals, porpoises, great blue herons and bald eagles. With three resident pods of orcas in the area and constant communication with other tracking boats, we have an excellent chance of a sighting. Whether or not we see them, the journey itself is well worth it. We come ashore in San Juan Island’s Friday Harbor, which, according to local legend, got its name when a passenger aboard a survey boat yelled to someone on shore, ―What bay is this?‖ Thinking he had been asked what day it was, the islander yelled back, ―It’s Friday!‖
After settling in at Friday Harbor House, you can survey the fabled harbor from your own private whirlpool tub. You’re on your own for dinner in Friday Harbor; your leaders will be happy to recommend their favorite dining spots.
Lodging: Friday Harbor House
Cattle Point View Route 21 Miles with Shuttle (1,000-foot elevation gain)
Longer Options: Roche Harbor 31 Miles with Shuttle (1,700-foot elevation gain);
Friday Harbor 41 Miles (1,900-foot elevation gain);
or Friday Harbor via Pear Point 50 Miles (2,000-foot elevation gain)
Today’s ride through the pastoral and less forested terrain of San Juan Island still offers those familiar hills—they’re just not quite as large as those you encountered on Orcas. We head south to Cattle Point Lookout, where the sight of the massive Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Olympic Peninsula makes you feel as though you’ve reached the end of the world. Retracing just a bit, you’ll pass by aptly named False Bay, whose shallow bottom is exposed for hundreds of yards during low tide. Wind your way to the Pelindaba Lavender Farm and stop to marvel at the lavender fields and array of lavender products, from teas, soaps and candles to fire-starters. Leaving Pelindaba, check out the view of the Haro Strait and Vancouver Island from under the shade of a red-barked madrona tree.
At Lime Kiln State Park, follow the short path to the water’s edge to the only official whale-watching park in the United States. Orca sightings are not uncommon here at some of their favorite fishing grounds. Grab some lunch before continuing to Roche Harbor, where you’ll take on the hilliest section of the route. Or hop in the van to avoid ten miles of climbing. Once you reach the harbor, you may choose to go on a guided sea-kayaking excursion. Paddling through protected waterways, peaceful inlets and vast kelp beds around Pearl, Henry and Posey Islands, look for harbor seals, otters, bald eagles and a variety of seabirds. (Sea kayaking is not included in the trip price and is dependent on the weather.) If you choose not to kayak, head back to Friday Harbor on a ten-mile spin over a few rises or an even longer route via Pear Point for a fantastic view of the harbor. The rest of the afternoon is yours to relax at the hotel or spend time in town visiting shops, art galleries and the Whale Museum.
Tonight we celebrate our journey with a farewell dinner at Friday Harbor House. Enjoy innovative Pacific Northwest cuisine while taking in the sunset view over the harbor.
Lodging: Friday Harbor House
Ferry to Lopez Island 1½ Hours
Lopez Village Route 20 Miles with Shuttle
Shorter Option: Fisherman’s Bay 14 Miles with Shuttle
Longer Options: Bayshore 23 Miles with Shuttle
or Lopez Ferry Terminal 28 Miles
Ferry to Anacortes 45 Minutes
This morning we ferry to tranquil Lopez Island. Known for its rural beauty and many protected harbors, Lopez is a bicyclist’s paradise with its rolling terrain and friendly locals. Pedal to Shark Reef, then take a short hike for views of the Olympic Mountains and the fast-moving current between Lopez and San Juan Islands. Back on your bike, head straight for Lopez Village or take a scenic spin out Bayshore Road to soak in the beautiful vista of the sound. Whichever option you choose, make sure to save time to sample some sweet treats at Holly B’s Bakery or the Just Heavenly Fudge Shop, home to Lopez Island Creamery Ice Cream.
We reconvene midday for a tasty lunch of local specialties in Lopez Village. From here you can bike or shuttle to the ferry terminal to board a ferry to Anacortes, where our trip ends.
About The Operator:
Every Backroads vacation is a one-of-a-kind adventure, where serendipity is supported - often invisibly - by a well choreographed backstage effort. After 30 years of practice, we've perfected the craft of creating and delivering world-class experiences and service, both hallmarks of a carefree Backroads vacation.
We ease your trip preparation with little extras, from a recommended packing list to lodging suggestions for before and after your trip. During your vacation, we make sure your luggage is waiting in your room, you have a cool drink or a lift when you desire them, and travel logistics are handled so you can focus on fun and relaxation.
Anticipating and responding to your needs - that is our commitment!Worldwide Presence
The Best Routes
All Backroads itineraries have been carefully researched by our team of 23 Trip Specialists and 9 Regional Managers to ensure you experience the very best way to explore the region. And before your trip, the routes are once again tested by our Trip Leaders-each and every season.
Seven Days of Service
Your Backroads Trip Consultants are available 7 days a week, from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT, to answer your questions.
We've designed our trips with plenty of options that let you personalize each day and make the most of your vacation. And on each day of the trip (or the night before if you're heading out early), you'll receive a Daily Snapshot that gives you all of the important information you need so that you have control of your precious time.
Bikes & Accessories
All Biking and Multisport Trips include use of a fully equipped, custom-designed Backroads Titanium bike. Choose either upright or drop handlebars. Backroads is also unique among travel companies in manufacturing our own line of custom-designed kids' bikes. For the younger ones we offer the Burley d'Lite trailer and Burley Piccolo trailercycle.
A Choice of Lodging
We're the only company that distinguishes between Premiere Inns and Casual Inns, making it easy for you to choose a trip that suits your personal style. We provide an honest assessment of each hotel giving you an assurance of quality you can trust.
Backroads has been taking responsible travel seriously since our first trip over 30 years ago. While traveling on two feet or two wheels is the ultimate minimal-impact approach to traveling, we recognize that any travel has an impact and so we do everything we can to make the impact as light and as positive as possible.
When you're out exploring, you may welcome some time to yourself, but when needed, we are there. We pioneered on-trip vehicle support and we continue to perfect it. Read more about On-Trip Support.
Local experts team up with your Backroads leaders, offering firsthand perspectives to enhance your overall experience. From explorations of historic and cultural sites, to culinary adventures showcasing traditional cuisine, to visits with special friends we've made over the years, we take you into the heart of a region with an immediacy and authenticity you'll never forget.
One of the biggest benefits of traveling with Backroads is the wonderful folks you travel with-adventurers who appreciate the Backroads level of quality, pursue new experiences with a passion and take their fun as seriously as they take their work. "People less interested in impressing each other than in having a good time," is how Departures magazine captured the spirit of our guests. Join us-and travel in terrific company.
Nobody knows families like Backroads. From our designated Kid Coordinators to extra vehicle support to custom-designed kids' bikes (a Backroads exclusive), we've considered all angles important to families. Each family trip balances quality time together and apart, with welcome opportunities for everyone to take a break and recharge-something that's virtually impossible to achieve when you vacation on your own.
Your Trip is Guaranteed
At Backroads we're so committed to providing you with an extraordinary experience that we guarantee the quality of your trip. We value our relationship with you, our guest, and want it to be mutually rewarding and long-term.
Our Leaders Make the Trip
You'll find Backroads Trip Leaders to be the best you've ever traveled with. That's not an idle claim-it's backed by the most rigorous recruiting, hiring, training and guest satisfaction programs in the business. View the full scoop on our leaders and why you'll love them.